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Hijab ban in workplace permissible rules EU’s top court

27th Aug 2021
Hijab ban in workplace permissible  rules EU’s top court

European Court of Justice – Luxembourg,(Photo: Cédric/Flickr Commons)

Elham Asaad Buaras

The EU’s European Court of Justice (ECJ) has, on July 15, ruled that under certain circumstances, employers can ban employees from wearing the hijab.

The ruling addressed cases brought by two Muslim women in Germany who were suspended from their workplaces after they started wearing the hijab.

The ECJ said employers needed to show a ‘genuine need” for the ban, such as the “legitimate wishes” of the customers, including presenting a ‘neutral image towards customers or to prevent social disputes’.
The Luxembourg-based ECJ ruled ‘a prohibition on wearing any visible form of expression of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace may be justified by the employer’s need to present a neutral image towards customers or to prevent social disputes.

‘However, that justification must correspond to a genuine need on the part of the employer and, in reconciling the rights and interests at issue, the national courts may take into account the specific context of their Member State and, in particular, more favourable national provisions on the protection of freedom of religion.’

One of the Muslim women worked as a special needs carer at a childcare centre in Hamburg. The other was a cashier at the Müller drugstore chain. At the time of their initial employment, neither women wore the hijab but did so years later after coming back from parental leave.

The women were told by their employers that this was prohibited and were at different points either suspended, told to remove the hijab, or put on a different job. The court ruled that in the case of the care centre employee; the rule prohibiting her from wearing the headscarf was applied generally since the employer also required an employee wearing a Christian cross to remove the religious sign.
The ruling in both cases will now be up to national courts to have the final say if there was any discrimination.

The wearing of the hijab has over the year’s sparked controversy across Europe, underlining sharp divisions over integrating Muslims. A ruling in 2017 by the EU court in Luxembourg said that companies may bar staff from wearing the hijab and other visible religious symbols under certain conditions.

Hijab bans have been a source of controversy in Germany, whose five million Muslims make up the largest religious minority in the country.

France, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe, banned the wearing of the hijab in state schools in 2004, and in 2014 a French court upheld the dismissal of a Muslim day-care worker for wearing a hijab at a private nursery with strict neutrality regulations. Turkey’s cabinet ministers have criticised the court ruling, branding it “a blow to the rights of Muslim women” and that it would “grant legitimacy to racism”.

Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish President, tweeted that the move would encourage Islamophobia. “The decision by the European court of justice on [headscarves] in the workplace is another blow to the rights of Muslim women,” he wrote.

He said it would “play right into the hands of those warmongers against Islam in Europe” and asked: “Does the concept of religious freedom now exclude Muslims?” Fahrettin Altun, Erdoğan’s Communications Director, described the decision as “an attempt to grant legitimacy to racism”.
“Instead of denouncing its dark past, Europe now seeks to embrace it,” he said. “We condemn this ruling, which infringes on human dignity.”

In the UK, Naz Shah MP called the suggestion “that the hijab can be banned in the workplace is absurd, totalitarian and frankly shameful. The ruling by the court is not just an attack on Muslim women and their freedom to wear a headscarf at work, but also on Sikh men wearing a turban, Jewish men wearing a kippah, nuns wearing their religious clothing, and against people of all religions.

“Such rulings also undo decades of struggles by women fighting for their freedoms. I will be raising the concerns of many regarding this Islamophobic, ignorant and blatant attack on religious freedoms.”
On Twitter, the European Network against Racism said that the latest ruling would “lead to justifying the exclusion of Muslim women, who are increasingly portrayed as dangerous for Europe, in the collective narrative”.

Across the Atlantic, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also slammed the court’s decision. CAIR National Executive Director, Nihad Awad, said, “The freedom to practise one’s faith, including by wearing a hijab in the workplace, is a fundamental human right. Today’s decision by this European court infringes on the religious liberty of European Muslims, and represents the latest example of a disturbing pattern of global Islamophobia. We stand in solidarity with the European Muslim community as they work to address this unjust, irrational and bigoted ruling.”

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